“Never Bet Against James Cameron”: The Early Reviews for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Are In

avatar 2 the way of water reviews james cameron box office

It’s been 84 13 years, but James Cameron has made his return to cinema with Avatar: The Way of Water, which celebrated its global premiere in London on Tuesday, December 6.

Cameron was in attendance at the premiere, along with producer Jon Landau and cast members Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang and Kate Winslet, who all walked the blue carpet before heading into the theatre.

Set more than a decade after the events of the 2009 film, Avatar: The Way of Water follows the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive and the tragedies they endure as they strive to protect their home on Pandora.

Addressing the crowd from the Odeon West End stage, Cameron thanked everyone for coming, per Deadline.

“I don’t know about you, this is a pretty surreal moment for me that we are done with the film,” he said. “Five years of production and five years spanning a really dark period. The pandemic hit, we were shut down completely. I was despairing this art form I love that I dedicated four decades to was over. We finally got back to work but we didn’t know if there would be movie theatres. Was it over? But here we are.

“Theatres are full again and moviegoers of the world have declared resoundingly that we need this,” he continued. “We need this ability to gather together to sit in these great dark spaces and to dream together with our eyes wide open in a cinema. To me tonight is not about a new Avatar film. It’s about cinema, and here you are in your black-tie finery. It’s a celebration of this art form that we love so much. It’s back, it’s alive and it’s as great as it’s ever been.”

The original Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all-time, with Cameron’s previous film, 1997’s Titanic, still holding the number three spot (Avengers: Endgame briefly took Avatar‘s number one spot in 2019, but Cameron reclaimed the throne in 2021 when Avatar was re-released in China in a bid to bring audiences back to the cinema, pushing Endgame back to number two).

With such a long time between Avatar films, the naysayers have been loud over the years, denouncing the film as having a lack of “cultural impact“. Meanwhile, Cameron recently said that Avatar: The Way of Water would need to make USD$2 billion at the box office to “break even”.

Needless to say, the stakes for a blockbuster film release have rarely been higher, and in recent weeks, even Cameron himself has been wondering: “how many people give a s**t now?”

Following the film’s premiere, the first reviews from film critics and journalists have been flooding in, and the message for naysayers is clear: James Cameron has done it again.

“Yeah never bet against James Cameron,” Wrote Mike Ryan of Uproxx. “Trying to spare hyperbole, but I’ve never seen anything like this from a technical, visual standpoint.

“It’s overwhelming. Maybe too overwhelming. Sometimes I’d miss plot points because I’m staring at a Pandora fish,” he continued.

“Someone texted me, ‘what’s the most visually impressive part of the movie?’ And I responded, ‘The whole thing honestly.’

“Also, I rewatched the first AVATAR over the weekend and basically settled on ‘that was fine.’ The sequel has much better and deeper character development.”

IndieWire’s David Erlich echoed Ryan, writing: “Lol imagine being dumb enough to bet against James Cameron. Or teen alien Sigourney Weaver. Or giant whales subtitled in papyrus”.

Calling it “light years better than the first and easily one of the best theatrical experiences in ages”, Erlich quipped: “streaming found dead in a ditch”.

Erlich added that going into the film he was “not exactly champing at the bit for an Avatar 2 (even if ‘James Cameron + wet’ tends to work out pretty well)” but now can’t wait to see the third instalment (set to be released in 2024).

“That’s basically all I wanted out of this and it delivered in a big way,” he finished.

David Sims, of The Atlantic, and co-host of film podcast Blank Check, wrote that the film “owns bones”, adding: “I was slapping my seat, hooting, screaming for the Na’vi to take out every last one of those dang sky people”.

Matt Neglia of Next Best Picture noted that while “James Cameron’s dialogue still struggles”, the film is “technically wondrous” and that the “storytelling soars as [Cameron] emotionally invests us in the new characters and creatures”.

“A sincere, stunning epic that was worth the wait,” Neglia added.

Calling the film “pretty incredible”, Collider‘s Perri Nemiroff said that while she “had faith James Cameron would raise the bar [with] the effects”, the visuals “are mind-blowing”.

“One stunning frame after the next,” she wrote. “But the thing I dug most is how the technical feats always feel in service of character [and] world-building.”

Jake Hamilton, ReelBlend podcast co-host and Entertainment Anchor for Good Day Chicago wrote that although he “liked — but didn’t LOVE — the first Avatar“, the sequel blew him away.

“Vastly superior in visuals, storytelling and performances, the sequel left my jaw on the ground for the entire runtime,” he wrote. “James Cameron is the GOD of sequels.”

DigitalSpy‘s Movies Editor, Ian Sandwell, wrote that while the film is “a visual masterpiece with a rich use of 3D and breathtaking vistas”, it did “suffer from a thin story and too many characters to juggle”. Still, Sandwell felt that Cameron was able to “[pull] it together for an extraordinary final act full of emotion and thrilling action”.

Yolanda Machado of Entertainment Weekly wrote that Cameron is a “technology master… and his direction is at its most precise here.”

As for the film “as a whole”, though, Machado felt that it is “Dances with Wolves and Free Willy for Gen Z!”

Empire‘s Amon Warmann “liked” but “didn’t love” the film. Even so, Warmann wrote that “The good news is that 3D is good again (yay!), and the action is pretty incredible (especially in the final act).

“But many of the storylines feel like they have to stop and start, and the high frame rate was hit [and] miss for me.”

Noting its “mesmerising beauty in every frame”, CheatSheet‘s Jeff Nelson called it “a visual marvel”, writing: “James Cameron’s sequel thrives when it explores new terrain, crafting bigger and better emotional stakes. The definition of epic.”

Fandango‘s Erik Davis called the film “phenomenal”, writing that it is “bigger, better [and] more emotional than #Avatar, the film is visually breathtaking, visceral [and] incredibly engrossing. The story, the spectacle, the spirituality, the beauty – this is moviemaking [and] storytelling at its absolute finest.”

And finally, The Wrap‘s Drew Taylor wrote: “Have now seen #Avatar twice and am overwhelmed by both its technical mastery and unexpectedly intimate emotional scope. Yes the world is expanded and sequels teased but the characters are most important. Cameron is in top form, especially in final act. Good to have him back.”

Avatar: The Way of Water will be released in HOYTS cinemas on December 15. Buy tickets here.

Want more Avatar? Read all our content here, and check out the stories below:

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.